Every year just after Autumn makes its debut and white becomes taboo, a bearded band of Austin brewers makes its way to Denver, Colorado. Their mission? To serve beer at the Great American Beer Festival to an audience of over 60,000 craft beer aficionados from around the world, and compete against over 1,500 breweries from around the country. The Austin contingent of brewers totaled 15 this year, a full third of all breweries that hailed from the state of Texas.
If you tried three different beers a day at Great American Beer Festival, it would still take you almost three and a half years to get through every beer within the festival hall. I had three days. It was a daunting task, to be sure, but one accepted without hesitation. Somebody has to do it, right?
To get an idea of what it’s like to try some of the innovative beers at the festival, take a look at this list of some of my favorites:
- Cocoa Cow Chocolate Milk Stout, Sunriver Brewing Company (Sunriver, OR)
- Vanilla Bean Ale, Infusion Brewing (Benson, NE)
- Mocha IPA, Stone Brewing Co. (San Diego, CA)
- 1982 Cantaloupe Sour, The Brewers Cabinet (Reno, NV)
- Whiskey Barrel Aged Double Pecan Porter, 512 Brewing (Austin, TX)
The mad scientists that pass as brewers these days are balancing distinctive flavors and creating hard-to-believe concoctions. Take a local favorite like the 512 Pecan Porter, throw it in whisky barrels for a few months and voila! You have the ever-popular Whiskey Barrel Aged Double Pecan Porter, a perennial sell-out at bars across Austin.
Nothing But Gold
Austin brought home four gold medals this year.
- Although the Whiskey Barrel Aged Double Pecan Porter didn’t medal, 512 Brewing’s first foray into wild fermentation, the Wild Bear, brought home a gold.
- The Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co. earned a gold with their refreshing Rocket 100, an American-style pilsener.
- Black Star Co-op picked up their second Great American Beer Festival medal and first gold with their Recalcitrant Dockhand, a robust porter.
- Adelbert’s Brewery rounded out the medal haul with a much-deserved gold of their own for Vintage Monks, a Belgian-style ale.
Interesting to note; Austin brought home more gold medals than any other city in America, besting craft beer pioneering cities like Portland and Denver.
Brewers Chime In
As our favorite brewers perfect their craft to compete with the best in Denver, more seek to join their ranks every year. I asked a few Austin brewers what they thought of the year preparing for Great American Beer Festival 2015, and what they’re looking forward to the most in the year ahead.
2015 has seen some incredible growth in the Austin area, including the rise of “neighborhood breweries.” What has surprised you the most about the Austin craft beer industry this year?
“The insatiable demand for locally produced beer in this town. Every brewery tap room in town is packed with people; almost every bar has multiple craft beer taps; breweries are constantly releasing new and exciting offerings; and none of these trends seem to be slowing down. Huge demand paired with incredibly creative and talented people pushing out some of the best beers in the country make this city one of the most premier craft beer cities in the nation.” -Andy Martinec, Beer Team Lead at Black Star Co-op Pub and Brewery
“That the thirsty market continues to drink up everything we can make. I keep thinking that we’ll reach a point of saturation, but our beer-drinking public can’t seem to get enough good beer. For that, I’m very grateful.” -Spencer Tielkemeier – Head Brewer at Oasis Texas Brewing Co.
“It seems like it’s been a whirlwind of craft beer growth in Texas since 2010 and this year has been no different. The most surprising thing to me over the past year has been the large number of out-of-state breweries that are entering the Texas market. That being said, it’s great to see the commitment to local brands from the killer bars, restaurants and bottle shops here in Austin.” -Josh Hare, Founder at Hops & Grain Brewing
It looks like we can expect lots of expansion from existing breweries, as well as the larger, more established breweries wanting to come to Austin. But that’s just one of the trends to expect. Is there anything that has you particularly excited about the coming year in craft beer here in Austin?
“The coolest thing to see [every year] in the craft beer industry is people’s growth within the industry. I now know several people that were outside of the industry that are or about to be opening, running or otherwise affiliated with a brewery in town. This industry is growing exponentially, not only in barrelage produced, but in the number of people working in this locally-focused, passion-filled industry. That is exciting.” -Andy Martinec, Beer Team Lead at Black Star Co-op Pub and Brewery
“Seeing some of the more established and newer breweries take themselves past the 15,000 barrels per year mark has me excited. You don’t do that stuff unless you’re a serious beer market. Other states are about to take notice of us.” -Spencer Tielkemeier, Head Brewer at Oasis Texas Brewing Co.
“The growth of both established and new breweries in Austin has been exponential and I don’t anticipate that slowing anytime soon. As the number of breweries continues to grow, the quality brands will continue to rise to the top. I’m most excited to see who survives and who doesn’t, as small and large breweries alike are committing more and more to quality and consistency through investing in on-site labs and robust QC/QA [quality assurance/quality control] processes.” -Josh Hare, Founder at Hops & Grain Brewing
@Crafty_Ed wants to know:
Have you tried any of Austin’s award-winning beers?